Friday, March 7, 2008

On the Subject of Derek Bailey

After acquiring an album or two of avant-guitarist Bailey's finer offerings, I decided to peruse AMG for further recommendations. And then I found this.

"Throughout his career, Derek Bailey has primarily been involved with atonal sound exporations on his guitar. This solo session (available as an Italian LP) features Bailey on 14 sketches getting a wide variety of noises and sounds out of his instrument. All but the most open-eared listeners will probably think of these performances as random noise but there is a method to Derek Bailey's apparent madness."

This is an album (Diverso No. 2), not a career overview. But really, that's all it is. Every once in a while, allmusic thinks it can provide filler. Notice the first sentence, where an insanely general comment is provided for background. And the second sentence, which refers to the tracks as "sketches." I'm trying not to view this as a back-handed put down, but c'mon. Just because there isn't a verse/chorus structure doesn't mean they aren't songs. DO NOT TRY TO BECOME A GREAT AUTHORITY ON WHAT MAKES A SONG A SONG. DO NOT TRY TO COME UP WITH A NEW TERM TO DESCRIBE HIS TECHNIQUE.

The third sentence is what really steams me off. Derek Bailey plays improvisational music. When the author lays down the "method to madness" line, what he means is Bailey improvises skillfully. I don't why that's such a huge fucking egg to swallow.


1 comment:

huginNmunin said...

Agreed - this is horrid. Granted, Mr. Bailey is near and dear to me, but this "review" delves into a problem that I think is deeply ingrained in the minds of the critics of improvisational music. The improviser as idiot savant, junky genius, or mad scientist (as in the case of this review) belittles not only the musician, but the entire process of improvisation itself. If the playing is "made up" or "off the cuff," then the musician cannot possibly be self aware of their own methods, hence the "madness." Or, even worse, the musician isn't playing "in the moment" and therefore is labeled as sterile and academic (as is also the case of Derek Bailey). Essentially, Mr. Bailey inhabits a rare (and perhaps "forbidden") space of criticism in which he is labeled as BOTH insane AND erudite. Really, what can a listener desire more than inspiration and thoughtfulness, a sound both visceral and cerebral? (Yes, that's my attempted objective support of Bailey's unrelenting catalog) Perhaps this is what happens when one creates music for musicians ... or perhaps that's why critics should respond with a bit more research and thought. If one is a musician and they are challenged by a score or performance experience, one ups the ante or loses the gig. This kind of review really just illuminates how daunted critics become and how their rhetoric fails to rise to the occasion.